Since late last year, live sound for the US Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) mixed martial arts events has been powered by a custom-configured Meyer Sound reinforcement system, based on LEOPARD line array loudspeakers. The system consists of 120 speakers.
The principal architect behind the system is Daniel Bonneau, senior director of audio production for Bloomfield, Connecticut-based ConCom, the production company that has provided both live AVL and broadcast production services throughout most of UFC’s existence. Bonneau has been the FOH engineer for nearly all UFC events over the past decade, which he recalled has been easily over 300.
“We’d been using a Meyer MICA-based system for nearly seven years and it had done very well,” he said. “But when we changed to LEOPARD, the sonic quality immediately stepped up to a higher level. We wanted a box that could deliver a huge impact to the crowd when playing walk-in music from the truck, but also had the clarity needed for the interviews afterwards, even when the fighters are exhausted and holding their mics down by their belts.”
Bonneau also sought a system that could go in and out quickly, scale to arenas of any size, and hang high out of sight. One key element of his solution was to implement a fibre-optic AVB network for linking FOH to the Galileo GALAXY processors for the arrays. Bonneau facilitated the building of two custom steel pods, one flown on each side of the centre scoreboard. The top portion provides storage for the cable looms connected to the three LEOPARD arrays covering each end of the arena; the pod’s side incorporates racks for power distro along with two Luminex AVB network switches and four GALAXY processors; and the bottom provides rigging points that support two different configurations for the 1100-LFC low frequency control elements.
“It’s unbelievable how much quicker things are going now,” explained Bonneau. “We’re saving over an hour on load-in and at least a half-hour on load out. If points are clear, we’re typically floating off the ground in three hours.”
The entire arena seating bowl is covered by the six-hang exploded centre cluster of arrays. “With the old system we used eight arrays, but we would get some slapback from the big video screens. Now, with the six array configuration we avoid firing at the screens, but the wide horizontal of the LEOPARDs still gives us seamless coverage. Also, I have all the headroom I need to handle walk-in music, which varies greatly from track to track, and I have ample gain before feedback in the post-fight interviews.”
The system also incorporates a total of eight flown 1100-LFC elements along with four 900-LFC elements tucked under the Octagon competition platform. Also directly underneath the Octagon mat are five Sennheiser 421 microphones that are routed directly to the 1100-LFC elements. “When a fighter gets picked up and thrown down, it lays your hair back when he hits the mat,” reported Bonneau. “The fans may not be consciously aware of the effect but it intensifies the total experience.”
Bonneau mixes the UFC events on a Yamaha CL-5 digital console, relying on a pair of Meyer Sound Amie precision studio monitors for near-field reference. The wireless system is Sennheiser digital with Neumann KK205 capsules, while wired microphones are Neumann KMS 105.